Fade to Black
I Hated French A-Level. This Was, In a large part, due to the fact that one of my teachers was actually French, which is fine in theory (what with being able to hear authentic inflexions and so forth), but in practice, it was like being trapped in an endless episode of Rapido. Anyway, attempting one day to gauge the extent to which her inherent chic had rubbed off on my wholly uninterested class, he insisted that each pupil announce the aspect of continental culture that they held to be leplus important. I could only come up with syphilis and getting trounced in two wars, but in retrospect I should probably have made some reference to France's games industry. After all, titles such as Alone in the Dark, Another World, and Cruise for a Corpse have given the world rather more pleasure than arms deficits and green willies.
But enough of my scholastic misadventures, and on to the foreign fun-fest in question. Though Fade To Black has been much publicised as the sequel in all but name to Flashback, the games are so disparate that this isn't really worth dwelling on. Whereas flashback was an impressive, yet hardly classic, platform-based arcade adventure, FTB (as we shall call it henceforth) is... well, is a great number of things, which we will get to later. In the meantime, rest assured that you don't even have to have laid eyes on flashback to get the most out of its "sequel"; it's pretty much independent in every way. Even the storyline stands alone quite neatly.
About that storyline...
Well, the scenario-brief that I was given was, frankly, a little thin. Okay, I'll be honest. It was crap. Viz: the solar system in 2190 ad is "in the clutches of an alien race; a race beyond control." Yikes! Who can they be, these 'orrible monstrous incarnations of incomparable evil? The Morphs. The bloody Morphs, I ask you. Now as far as I'm concerned. Morph is that small, brown geezer who used to squeak at Tony Hart. You know the one: he looked like a jobbie with arms and legs. So we've been overrun by an army of galactic plasticine turds. (Shut up and read the rest of the story. Ed.) Er, oh yes. These Morphs of the future are able to resemble any shape they choose, and not only number twos - sort of like the villain in Terminator 2, only organic instead of robotic.
It's them you have to thank for your status at the beginning of the game: as Conrad Hart (presumably a distant relative), you are banged up in a high-security prison compound on the moon. All of this is presented in a gloriously moody intro sequence, which concludes with a fellow prisoner charitably blasting your guard's head off, slipping you a few bits of equipment, and then roping you into assisting his covert rebel operation, the Mandragore.
It is amongst this parcel of goodies that you receive details of your first mission: to recover a camouflage device which is stashed in the infirmary. Fortunate, then, that you have also been given a gun.
Let's go to work
Not so fast. Your weapon, though a vital tool of the trade, is by no means the be-all and end-all. If you try to live solely by the speed of your trigger-finger, FTB will chortle in your face and whip your quaking bottom.
That's not to say that there aren't plenty of fantastic Doom-esque shoot-outs, there are, it's just that there's much more besides. The game's bristling with intricate puzzles, and those I encountered on the first level alone were infinitely superior to any in Flashback. However, before you get to grips with these, you need to come to terms with the game's interface. For it has to be said that, at first, FTB could conceivably be a mite confusing.
It employs a similar system to Alone in the Dark in that, as you walk around, the view sweeps all over the shop, so as to make the whole affair as cinematic as possible. Well, cinematic in the sense that if you imagine a film made by Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott after a week in a crackhouse, you'd be close. It's a good idea to move about a bit in the first l'oom so that the seamless altering of camera angles doesn't later leave you panic-stricken at an inopportune moment. Attempting to flee from a gigantic alien when the monitor appears to be on hallucinogens takes a bit of getting used to. But worry ye not: it soon becomes second nature and unnecessary to visit the lavatory every time Conrad turns a corner.
Actually controlling him in his rather breath-taking environment, though, is easy - much easier than my instruction manual seemed to suggest. It provided a lengthy list of key commands for performing different actions, which was, for want of a better word, bollocks. All you need is the cursors and a few others for jumping, shooting and using things. And that's only if you opt for pure keyboard control; you can use a mouse or joystick as well. I found a sort of combination to be the best bet: the keys offer the most precision for movement, while the mouse (obviously) makes selecting all those bits and bobs from your inventory as simple as Nigel from EastEnders. It's possible to play solely via the mouse, though I found the constant need to click on icons a bit of a pain. However, I did manage to get well and truly stuck into the game despite the shoddiness of my pre-production instructions, and even though the text and speech in the review-copy I was playing were entirely in French. Quel tribute to FTB's accessibility, n'est-ce pas?
Mon petit journal
That's not to say I was any good at it, though. It's not so much me being crap, as the game being jolly tricky. Well, alright, my ineptitude may come into it, but Jeromy (the Dep. Ed. no less) will vouch for FTB being no walk in the park. Anyway, so that you can have an idea of what to expect when you gleefully boot the cd, I present thus, a small record of my achievements and reflections during my first few forays. Attempt One: Who wants some? Who wants some? Ha ha! Look at me as I strut around my newly-unlocked cell, a-drawin' and a-holsterin' my trusty nine-shooter. I've got unlimited magazines (because these are bog-standard bullets; you can find upgrades, but they're in short supply) and I'm going to bally make sure the furniture knows it. Hey, chair, you talkin' to me? Are you talkin' to me? Well I don't see anyone else in here... (For God's sake, get on with it. Ed.) Ahem. Okay, walk up to the door and it automatically slides open. Out we go into the hallway and - shit! - the radar's popped up... I'm being gunned down by a droid. Er, er, er, shoot - quick!... no, missed... um... Arse. I'm dead. Attempt Two: Alright. Out of the cell, pistol at the ready. The view immediately swings around behind my head and I aim straight between the floating git's metallic eyes. Three shots later, he's a molten puddle. Hur hur. The infirmary is on level two, but for the time being there's only one way to go... and it leads straight into the path of an alien who yells out some expletives (in French, to add insult to injury) and then promptly hurls a small arsenal at me. Cue attempt three...
Attempt Three: This time the alien scum buys the farm. I take a couple of hits (I, er, went into battle with an empty gun and wasted a few seconds reloading) but I'm still in one piece. The Morphs are mean opponents: give them a chance and they'll melt into a green puddle which oozes along the floor until it engulfs you. After a wee bit of wandering around, I discover the kitchen. I accidentally shoot the chef (sausage fingers, eh?), but don't worry; he was a cunningly disguised Morph. Sadly, his friends in the next room fail to appreciate the comedy of my unintentional gunnery and re-acquaint me with the Game Over screen.
Attempt Four: Sod this. Time for a cigarette. What a crap game. But in mid sulk and mid-smoke I find myself once more drawn to Conrad and his plight, such is the game's irresistible allure. Right. It's time to do some damage; I'm going for gold -and if that bast Henry Kelly ' pops up, I'll make sure he gets his, too. I find the infirmary and get locked in a blazing exchange of laser-fire with a seemingly endless army of Morphs. I dive behind a crate for cover, with rockets whistling past my head, and just manage to sneak into a nearby doorway. It turns out to be a lift. The room above is dark and cavernous, but I can make out some pipes on the far wall - that's how the Morphs get from level to level. If I could destroy those, I'd cripple their access to the room below; then I could explore the passage beyond. Right. Time for another cigarette. What a cool game.
Better than sex
Well, possibly not, but aesthetically FTB is enough to give any pc gamester an extremely large erection (for boys anyway, I'm not sure what girl's get, I've always been too busy playing games, you know how.it is...) (Get on with it. Ed.). In almost every issue of Zone these days there's a review which is forced to say something like, "Think these screen-shots are pretty? Wait till you see them move!" and this one's going to be no exception. The graphics are deliciously fluid. Light ebbs like a moonbeam in cloud; shadows flow like seeping pools of night; and the delicately crafted polygon world tears around like it's got a firework up its bottom. Sonically, too, the game makes its thunderous mark: there's speech a-go-go, immensely satisfying explosions, and disturbingly intense music which changes in pace in accordance with your situation. You can even hear the pervy heavy-breathing of Morphs around the corner.
You may be under the impression by now that I've developed an affection for Fade to Black, and, by jiggery, you'd be right. It is uncommonly fine. In fact, it's the best game I've played since Elite II -and Elite II was my all-time favourite. Yes, it can at times be frustrating and unforgiving, but it is more often immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
Fade to Black is a game which we must thank for its sheer, dazzling brilliance, and curse for rendering it difficult to hate the French.
Duckin' and a Divin'
It's not all rolling around the floor trying to make big knee holes in your jeans, scuffing your white trainers and pretending to be Bruce Willis. No, there's flying bits in it too. About two thirds of the way through the game you'll come across a bit where you jump aboard a hover ship type thing in which you have to navigate your way through a rather difficult twisty-turny tunnel-like bit. A bit later still (quite near the end in fact) you jump aboard your speedy hover ship once more and have to shoot things as you fly down another tunnel type bit. It's a dirty (difficult) job, but someone's got to do it.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode